I can remember the day I finally harnessed my tears. "Stop crying. Boys don't cry." I was, maybe eight years old and I'd cut my knee. It felt so good to be able to choke down those tears, like a man. Stop crying. Stop feeling. That's what men do. My Dad and Mom would be so proud of me. For me, this is a concrete reality of boyhood. It was true when I was a kid. And it's true today. Depending on his make-up and his environment, a boy may start to develop his "man mask" between the age of 8 and 12.
Now, it may be true that developing a mask could be a natural process of masculine puberty- to develop a group of behaviors, postures, expressions in order to protect our true, sensitive selves. However, our culture, our advertising, our video games, our movies, ourselves etc., all encourage and profit from this. We teach our boys that expressing certain emotions, such as grief or fear, is something that is more a feminine way of being and therefor negative. A boy who cries may be told to "Man up. Stop acting like a girl. Cowboy up. Take it like a man. Stop being a pussy." A boy who has been treated to this litany of shame might start to believe that acting like a man or a cowboy and sucking up those tears is good while acting like a girl and freely expressing grief is bad.
Further, the derogative names we've taught our kids to call each other are very telling- for instance being called a "pussy" is something no boy wants. It implies weakness, a lack of power, lack of direction and lack of drive. However, being called a "dick", while not desired, certainly doesn't imply a weakness as it does a tendency to being unkind, insensitive, unfair and overly aggressive.
How did our culture come to this tragic place in our gender relations? How do we help our boys and girls and ourselves get free of this?